Julie Delpy Made a Genetic Thriller and Riz Ahmed Is a Heavy Metal Drummer: TIFF Platform Highlights

This year's Platform could be a referendum on just how much buyers are willing to jump on riskier material.
sound of metal
"Sound of Metal"

The fall movie season may be associated with awards season buzz, but for the past five years, the Toronto International Film Festival’s Platform section has provided a welcome alternative. The juried program is a tightly curated selection of international films, with a blend of debuts and established filmmakers moving in new directions. In a typically sprawling TIFF lineup, it’s the clearest path to discovery.

It’s also the place where buyers will want to spend a lot of time this year. All 10 films in this year’s Platform section are entering the festival without North American distribution. “I think these are all juicy for buyers,” TIFF co-head Cameron Bailey said.

But don’t expect a lot of obvious commercial material. Instead, this year’s Platform could be a referendum on just how much buyers are willing to jump on unexpected crowdpleasers, riskier options, and foreign-language offerings.

Distributors head to TIFF this year at a precarious moment for distribution. The specialty box office for narrative features has been in steady decline all year, while deep-pocketed disruptors such as Netflix and Amazon are revising their strategies ahead of new streaming entities from Disney, Apple, and Warner Bros. launching in the months ahead. But the Platform section is more likely to invite interest from edgier distribution players such as A24 and Neon, the latter of which picked up “Vox Lux” out of the section last year.

This year’s Platform has plenty of genre experiments and several recognizable faces moving in unusual directions. The most intriguing option in the 2019 Platform section comes from a familiar directing voice, but Julie Delpy’s “My Zoe” is reportedly a departure from her previous work. While Delpy remains best known as Céline in Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, the actress has developed her own filmmaking career across five features, beginning with her 2007 romcom “2 Days in Paris” and its sequel.

But “My Zoe” marks a turning point for the actor-director, who turns 50 this year. The movie is a world apart from the comedic material of her previous features. “This is probably one of the most surprising films we’ve seen,” said Andrea Picard, who programmed the section with Bailey for the first time this year. “We know her as the maker of these charming comedies but this is a feat of storytelling with hints of a thriller and science fiction. The less you know going in, the more the film will seize you.”

This much is clear: Delpy stars as a divorced genetic scientist who struggles to parent her child, Zoe (Sophia Ally) with her ex-husband (Richard Armitage). Following a tragedy, Delpy’s character turns to a couple played by Gemma Arterton and Daniel Brühl for a desperate scheme. “Julie Delpy has always made films with a core seriousness and an intensity that has a real productive anger, Bailey said. “That’s in her funny movies, but also in this one. This is a person who thinks deeply about how women can be constrained in society. It’s a remarkable, astounding turn for her.”

my zoe
Julie Delpy in “My Zoe”

Meanwhile, the sole American production in the section is a directorial debut. “The Place Beyond the Pines” screenwriter Darius Marder’s first feature, “Sound of Metal,” stars Riz Ahmed as a noise metal drummer losing his hearing. “You feel like he’s really on the journey with this character,” Bailey said. “It’s an intensely made film from a practiced storyteller.”

France’s Alice Winocour last made waves at Cannes with her Matias Schoenaerts thriller “Disorder” in 2015. Her “Proxima” stars Eva Green and Matt Dillon in the story of an astronaut (Green) preparing to spend a year on the International Space Station.

“We’ve seen a lot of astronaut stories lately,” Bailey said, from “First Man” to “Lucy in the Sky,” also coming out this year. “But this is a very unique and singular approach to that story, with the perspective of a woman balancing her high pressure work with motherhood. That, to me, expresses something very current.” It also marks a very different role for Dillon as his harrowing turn as a psychopath in Lars Von Trier’s “The House That Jack Built” last year. “This should turn the page from the last time we saw him,” Bailey said.

Then there’s Sara Gavron, who last made the festival rounds with the Meryl Streep period piece “Suffragette.” But that fall season Oscar bid is a world apart from “Rocks,” which will serve as the opening night Platform selection. “This reinvents her entirely,” Bailey said. The story follows a diverse group of young women in London who come together to help her friends. “That may sound corny but this is a grittier approach that strips away a lot of her previous style,” Bailey said. “It could be ripped from the headlines. It reminded me a little of early Ken Loach.”

rocks film still

Another English-language offering marks a step for a rising Canadian director. Kazik Radwanski has been a notable filmmaker ever since his jittery character study “Tower,” and with “Anne at 13,000 ft,” he continues his path to chronicling insecure people trapped in unstable routines. “The story deals with volatility and just being on the edge,” Picard said, citing John Cassavetes films as a key reference point. “One could say this is a classic story of cinema but it feels exceedingly urgent. It’s a film that rides this line, with a wife about to take off to find her freedom, and the subtle modulations that entails.”

Picard’s work on the experimental Wavelengths section of the festival has allowed her to program some of the most daring and unconventional works at the festival. By bringing that sensibility to Platform, she has found ways to introduce a range of filmmakers this year working in unusual ways. “I may come from the cinephilic end of things, but I can have a broad range, too,” Picard said with a laugh. “There were certain filmmakers whose work I’d been tracking and I was able to bring certain names to the table.”

That includes Pietro Marcello, the Italian director whose “Martin Eden” screens as the closing entry. Marcello has been acclaimed on the festival circuit, with a range of political documentaries tackling modern Italy, as well as the 2015 sleeper hit “Lost and Beautiful,” about a wandering character tasked with caring for a young buffalo.

Marcello’s neorealist style has shifted to a bigger terrain with “Martin Eden,” an adaptation of a Jack London novel transposed to a port city in Italy. “It’s very specific but also a universal story of loss about a writer who betrays his class origins.” The film blends archival footage with its narrative to position the movie in a broader historical context. “It’s a turning point in his career, very narrative-based, not an experimental film,” Picard said, comparing the movie to Roberto Rossellini classics. “It’s formally quite brilliant.”

Bailey said he hoped buyers would look beyond the English-language options in Platform. “The ones buying beyond that have a lot more to choose from,” he said, pointing to three titles from Latin America, including Mexican director David Zonana’s “Workforce.” The movie revolves around the death of a construction worker and the attempt by one of his relatives to receive proper compensation. “It says so much about the precariousness of labor and class in Mexico,” Bailey said.

The TIFF programming chief noted that they had taken a more flexible approach to the parameters for Platform after previous editions focused primarily on newcomers. “We’re letting some of the parameters drop away and really respond to films that move us and feel like they are deeply immersed in cinema, expressing a strong personal voice,” he said. “It can come from a veteran who feels like they’re still finding new ways or a newcomer. And there are a lot of people in that middle ground.”

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – 15 in Toronto, Canada.

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